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Interview with Ludger Wissing, Managing Director of Pfreundt GmbH

With the new pSeries wheel loader scales, Ludger Wissing, Managing Director of Pfreundt GmbH, sees development opportunities for mobile weighing equipment as well as for company services
The shape of things to come – the new company building with warehouse, workshop, training and seminar rooms as well as a spacious vehicle hall will be ready for moving in by the second half of 2010.

In 1979, Hans-Günther Pfreundt established a company which rapidly focused on what was then a still-unknown market: mobile weighing technology. Today, this concept is accepted worldwide – and Pfreundt GmbH, which will soon celebrate its 30th anniversary, has big plans. In an interview, Ludger Wissing, the company’s managing partner since 1995, explains the current state of mobile weighing technology and the future perspectives for the market leader in this area.

Mr Wissing, Pfreundt GmbH established the market for mobile weighing technology for mobile work machinery. But this idea, which has now spread worldwide, probably did not exist when the company was founded. How did this come about?

In the summer of 1979, Hans-Günther Pfreundt established a company which initially imported overload safety devices for cranes and forklifts. These safety devices measure the weight of the load – and it was a natural progression to also use these systems as mobile weighing systems. This was an idea of the company founder, and undoubtedly laid the foundations for the company’s success and defining characteristics. Pfreundt mobile scales soon found a demand, for example in skip loaders, refuse disposal trucks and forklifts.

What was the reason for this – what advantages did, and does, mobile weighing technology provide?

That is quite easy to explain. The technology saves the user time because it saves having to take a detour to find a stationary scale. It saves costs, because it can provide more accurate measurements. And it provides increased safety, because it prevents the vehicle from being overloaded. Moreover, the load data can be directly transferred to superordinate IT systems such as enterprise resource planning systems, and thus ensures a continuous flow of information. This not only saves time, but also increases transparency.

Today, a key application for your weighing systems is in wheel loaders. But these machines were not initially the focus of interest.

There is a small anecdote behind this. Once the company founder had developed a successful range of weighing systems for forklifts and cranes, a customer asked if a system of this kind could also be used in wheel loaders. Hans-Günther Pfreundt asked back: “What is a wheel loader?” After he had heard the answer to his question, he became familiar with the technology, and developed a weighing system which was suited to the requirements of construction equipment technology. That was the starting point of a real success story: Since then, we have fitted more than 20,000 wheel loaders with mobile weighing technology.

A very important aspect of mobile weighing technology is the calibration process, which is ultimately essential if the results of the weighing are to be used for calculation purposes. Was this capability guaranteed from the very outset?

No, that was a very long process, which Hans-Günther Pfreundt pushed forward with a great deal of perseverance. At the very start, the responsible authorities seemed to believe that it was impossible to develop a mobile scale which could be calibrated. After countless discussions with a variety of different agencies and calibration bureaus, he achieved the “impossible” in 1984: Trial approval was authorised, and the responsible authorities were convinced of the system’s problem-free operation.

You are celebrating your 30th anniversary this year. How is the company positioned today?

We consider ourselves the market leader for mobile, calibration-approved weighing technology, and employ approximately 60 staff, half of whom work in the field, or in customer service. We are represented internationally through subsidiaries as well as partners. We are aggressively pursuing further internationalisation. To this end, we have for example established our own subsidiary in Croatia. In the USA, we are building a dealer and service network, the staff of which is currently trained.

How wide is the application range for your current mobile weighing systems?

One very important application area is definitely wheel loaders, which are used in mining operations and in the handling of bulk goods. Here, we have a dominant market position worldwide with our dynamic weighing systems, which determine exact loading weights on the go. Our systems are also in use in dump trucks, skip loaders, refuse disposal trucks, forklifts and a range of other mobile work machinery. We are flexible enough to also be able to meet unusual requests. And we have great customers who come to us with their problems: We provide new solutions to their very concrete needs.

Could you give a few examples?

We have developed mobile weighing systems for specialised farm equipment such as beet harvesters as well as mining equipment. And an ever increasing number of customers are transferring their measured weights, either through W-LAN or mobile telephony, directly to their ERP systems. To achieve this, we have developed universal interfaces as well as customer specific general solutions which can for example perform real time data transfers, or consolidate weighing data from different locations.

You are not exactly facing the best economic conditions in this, your anniversary year. Are you feeling the effects of the crisis?

We are seeing restraint in a number of application areas: Customers are giving very careful consideration to their investments. But we see this also as an opportunity for growth, since our systems improve productivity. In this sense, we are less affected by the crisis. Many companies are putting their processes under the microscope, and looking for ways of working more rationally and of managing material flows more efficiently. Our weighing systems can make a major contribution to this.

Could you give an example of this?

At the beginning of the year, we delivered the ten thousandth example of our successful WK 50 model. The user, ThyssenKrupp MillServices & Systems, uses weight data from more than 20 wheel loaders to build up a comprehensive clinker management system. The calculation is very simple, even for a single mobile weighing system: If a mining operation gave up on exact weighing and the customer lost a mere 5% of their bulk cargo, this would amount to a sales total of 25,000 tonnes, with a value of €5 per tonne, translating to a loss of €6,250. A mobile weighing system thus pays for itself very rapidly. We are therefore optimistic about the near future, especially as we will soon be introducing a new product range.

What kind of innovation will this be?

With our pSeries, we offer a completely newly-developed, modular wheel loader weighing system, which has been specifically developed for the harsh conditions experienced in mobile work equipment.

How does this product range differ from the previous WK 50?

The display electronics are more compact, and the weighing function is integrated in a new operating unit, the pBase. It is possible to replace the complete display module, the printer and – should this be necessary – even the new pressure sensor, all within a very short time. Of course, the new scale can also be cost-effectively converted for use on other wheel loaders. In addition, it features a much more modern design, and we have created a new, ergonomic operating concept with a back-lit keypad and functional jog-dial. The colour display can equally be used as a monitor for a rear-view camera – this saves space, and increases safety.

There are also changes at the company level: The company has given itself a present on its milestone anniversary.

You could see it that way, but this was ultimately not done for ourselves, but for our customers. In June 2009, the cornerstone was laid for the new, much larger company premises in Südlohn. Due to our continued growth, we need additional research and development, administration and manufacturing space. And we will also need additional space for our expanded services.

What services are these?

Our customers are increasingly asking for us to perform initial calibration or – as it is called these days – conformance assessment of our mobile weighing systems. This task used to be performed by the local calibration bureaus, which are today increasingly doing away with calibration weights. We are certified according to MID guidelines and can therefore perform initial calibrations ourselves. Meanwhile, we have four calibration trucks with calibration weights, which we use nationwide.

Geared for growth
– as part of our service development,
 the company has this year bought two
additional calibration trucks.

If you take a look into the future: How will Pfreundt GmbH be positioned in future, and how will mobile weighing technology further develop?

Pfreundt mobile weighing technology is an integral part of the material and information flows in a large number of companies in the mining, handling, disposal and recycling industries – and we continue to see good opportunities for our company to grow. With our new building, we will establish the space that we need, and the new pSeries will provide an additional boost in the coming months. The core of our work is our dialogue with our customers. We therefore aim to expand our distribution network, and services.

Many thanks for talking to us!

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